Monday, August 11, 2008

Party resolution seen as bid to rein in Chief Minister

A policy document adopted by the State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has put the seal of approval on the organisational leadership's plan to take Kerala along the capitalist road, following the footsteps of China and West Bengal.

The committee approved the document, presented by State Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, after three days of discussion. Most of the members supported it enthusiastically and it was adopted unanimously in the absence of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who is undergoing Ayurvedic treatment.

In effect, the document is a victory proclamation by the organisational wing, headed by state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who had successfully marginalised Achuthanandan and his followers in the elections at various levels held in advance of the party's national congress at Coimbatore early this year.

The state party had witnessed intense factional strife between the two leaders before and after the Assembly elections of 2006. At one stage, the national leadership, exasperated by the way they aired their differences in public, suspended both from the Politburo, the party's highest policy-making body. The suspension was revoked before the party congress.

Later, the national leadership inducted Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan also into the politburo in an apparent bid to establish a new equilibrium in the state party with Pinarayi Vijayan in control of the organisational wing and Achuthanandan remaining the chief minister.

The new policy document pointedly rejects Achuthanandan's publicly stated positions on two issues with a bearing on agricultural and industrial development.

In the context of the growing demand for farm land from landless agricultural labourers, most of them Dalits and Adivasis who did not benefit from earlier land reform measures, Achuthanandan had endorsed the call for a second land reform.

The resolution dubs talk of a second land reform as mere rhetoric. Some time ago, a senior bureaucrat, apparently acting at the instance of his political master, had prepared a paper, making out a case for scrapping of the prevailing land reform measures on the ground that they came in the way of acquisition of land for industries.

The chief minister can seek consolation in the fact that the party has not gone that far. It has only scotched talk of further land reform.

The policy document is widely seen as a calculated attempt to rein in the chief minister and clear the way for ministers belonging to the Pinarayi faction to go ahead with their schemes without running into roadblocks.

In the early days of the present government, the Finance Minister and Local Self-government Minister Paloli Mohammedkutty, both stalwarts of the Pinarayi faction, had encountered stiff opposition from Achuthanandan in their bid to secure a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for schemes to improve urban amenities.

As the time set by the ADB for signing the loan agreement was running out, they sent an official to New Delhi without the chief minister's knowledge and completed the formalities.

Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, another Pinarayi acolyte, had also to contend with the chief minister's opposition when he sought to push through some schemes in which the organisational leadership seems to be interested.

The state committee's directive to adopt a liberal approach to attract investments and secure Rs250 billion for infrastructure projects in the remaining period of the government's tenure will enable him to press ahead.

A number of proposals for creating special economic zones, recommended by Kareem, have been lying in the chief minister's office for a long time.

Apparently they have not been forwarded to the Centre because Achuthanandan does not share Kareem's enthusiasm for them.

According to reliable sources, the state party leadership took up the issue with the national leadership, which then asked the chief minister to forward all pending applications to the Centre. Following this, the matter was placed before the Cabinet, where CPI ministers blocked it.

It is not as though the chief minister and the CPI ministers are totally against SEZs.
Since the present government took over, some SEZ projects have been cleared, notable among them being the Smart City project being implemented by the Dubai Internet City authorities.

They, however, favour a cautious approach in the matter. As a state with a high density of population, Kerala has to assess the needs of industry and agriculture properly and apportion the available land among all claimants, including them.

A scientific approach of this kind, which will restrict the ability to dispense favours, does not appeal to the political leadership. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 11, 2008.

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